After a few very good days exploring the streets and sights of Prague we continued on our journey. Our first experience of the rail system in Eastern Europe was to be an overnight train from Prague to Kraków, the city which used to be the Polish capital. Departing at 22.29 and arriving at just before 07.00 the journey was a little cramped in a 6-bed dorm, with bunk-beds three storeys high and about a metre separating the two sets. However, we were lucky in that we were sharing the dorm with just an Austrailian couple and that the beds were comfy enough, allowing both myself and Dad to get a semi-decent nights sleep before our early arrival.
Upon our arrival in Kraków train station we walked outside and, spotting a map, we tried to locate our hostel with the strange name of Hostel Mosquito. We knew that it was close to the train station and we found it on the map just a couple of streets away. We arrived and got buzzed into the building, instructed to come up to the second floor. First impressions of the building were not good, it reminded us of a classic Communist-era building, and not a good one! However, we duly reached the second floor and were pleasantly surprised to find the hostel extremely well decorated and welcoming. Needless to say we were very relieved having booked two nights here!
We had booked these two nights in a 12-bed dorm and whilst checking in we discovered that there was an age-restriction for those staying in dorms in the hostel, 18-45. Therefore the question was answered, Dad is too old for hostelling! However, these restrictions luckily turned out to be more like guidelines and the hostel staff said that they were happy for Dad to stay in the dorm as long as he was okay with it, as people may be coming in at all hours. Naturally he was, joking that he may be the one coming back at 5 in the morning!
We spent the rest of the day exploring Kraków, beginning in the market square with a coffee overlooking the square, observing as it gradually began to fill with tourists and horses and carriages. We made sure to catch the bugle playing from the tower of St Mary’s Church, which suddenly cuts off in memory of a past bugle player warning the city that it was under attack before being struck dead. From the square we made our way to Kraków’s castle, exploring the grounds and seeing the “real fire-breathing” dragon outside of the castle’s walls by the riverside. Picking up lunch from the market next to our hostel we had a quick break and then headed out again, this time joining a free walking-tour of the Jewish quarter of Kraków. On this tour we stopped at many sites including multiple locations used for filming the Oscar-winning Schindler’s List as well the site of the old Jewish ghetto created during the Nazi occupation of Poland.
Following a similar theme of Jewish history in Nazi-occupied Poland we visited Auschwitz-Birkenau the following day, reaching the museum site by train. Neither of us were as shocked as we thought we might be by the exhibits on show, even though these include 2 tonnes of real human hair and over 40,000 pairs of shoes belonging to the former inmates of the concentration camps. What we were shocked at though was the enormous scale of the camps. Birkenau was particularly hard to take in, having been comprised of 360 buildings over 420 acres as well as 4 gas chambers, now in ruins. The day truly was a sombre experience but one incredibly worthwhile!
After returning to the hostel we found some of the other hostellers planning to go out in Kraków, some for the fifth or sixth night in a row! Picking up some beers from the supermarket across the street I joined in for some drinking games and a night out on the town. Dad was invited but politely declined. Like I said, maybe he’s too old for hostelling!